Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost


This last week we had our confirmation Mass for the 10 juniors who got confirmed this year.  In his homily, Bishop Shawn McKnight reminded those being confirmed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not being given to them for their own good, but for the good of all.  This certainly is in line with the teaching of Jesus Christ. When sending out the disciples to prepare the way for Him, He tells them, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) It is easy to have a merit badge mentality about the sacraments. We go through preparation and classes and at the end receive the sacrament almost as a graduation certificate.  This accounts for why so many bail on the practice of the faith upon receiving whatever sacrament it be until it is time to receive the next sacrament.  If we go to that first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we can plainly see that the gifts of grace given through the sacraments are not ordered merely for the good of the person receiving them.

Out Into the Streets

                In the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-40, we hear of that first outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the immediate effects that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had on the apostles and those gathered in the Upper Room.  At the Ascension, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be sent to the Apostles and disciples as they were to continue the mission He started.  For 10 days they waited in the Upper Room, the location of the Last Supper, in watchful prayer waiting for that gift of the Holy Spirit. 

                Upon the reception of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and disciples immediately leave the Upper Room to head into the streets of Jerusalem and boldly proclaim the Gospel.  St. Peter, who only 53 days earlier had thrice denied knowing Jesus, now boldly proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He urges those hearing him to be stirred to belief in Christ.  The gift given to St. Peter and those gathered in the Upper Room was given because they had a mission to do.  From Pentecost on, the Apostles and disciples would fan out through the known world to proclaim the Gospel.  For nearly two millennia, Catholics had gone to the four corners of the world, to almost every tribe and nation, to proclaim the Gospel. Many would give their lives in this proclamation.  Some still do to this day.

A Public and not Private Faith

                As with those in the Upper Room, so with us.  In every sacrament we are given something of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly in confirmation we are given this Holy Spirit in very explicit way.  However, all sacraments are made present to us through the working of the Holy Spirit.  No more than the gifts of the Holy Spirit were treated as a private devotion or merit badge by those first Christians can it be treated so by us.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we are to be every bit the agent for radical change to this culture that St. Peter and those in the Upper Room were to the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. No more than the Apostles could remain in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost can we stay in the shadows in our own day.

                The Catholic faith is meant by its very nature to be sign to the world.  We are to stick out as different to the cultures in which we live.  We are to be champions for those in need, for the defenseless, for the searching, and for the poor. Our morals are not to be shaped by worldly morals.  In the Great High Priest Prayer of John 17: 1-26, Jesus prays on the night of the Last Supper that the Church He is about to found through His own Flesh and Blood would recognize the uniqueness of what is to happen.  He reminds us that we are not of this world. We live in the world and cultures in which we find ourselves, but we are to be bold witnesses in each and every one of those cultures.  When we don’t, we fall into the sin of Laodicea: lukewarmness.  The natural byproduct of lukewarmness is a Catholic whose life is indistinguishable from the culture in which we live.  It is this blandness of faith, this wasting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus finds so repugnant that He vomits it from His mouth (Rev 3:16).

                Because so many Catholics have turned a public faith to a private hobby, we have lost ground in our culture.  From the breakdown of the family, to the disrespect for human life in all stages, to the approval of the gross misuse of human sexuality, to the falling practice of the faith, to the dropping of priestly and religious vocation, Catholicism has ceded ground in the name of getting along in our society.  Our mission, as Catholics, is to infuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit into the culture around us.

                Where there is ignorance, we use the gift of wisdom. Where there is bias and prejudice, we use the gift of understanding. Where there is doubt, we use the gift of counsel. Where there are lies and propaganda, we use the gift of knowledge. Where there compromise, we use the gift of piety. Where there is rebellion, we use the gift of the fear of the Lord. Where there is fear, we use the gift of fortitude.  None of these gifts are given us to be stored as trophies to gather dust.  They are given to us to effect positive change in the culture around us.  Our faith is not a trophy nor a pious hobby, but an active agent for true and lasting change in our world.

Forging Ahead

                These gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the purpose of the Mission of Jesus Christ to make known the Gospel, and this is to greatly inform the direction, institutions, and mission of this parish.  It is my job as pastor to commandeer all of these and order them to the mission of Jesus Christ. Our ability to do this can be concretely measured in visible criteria.  All of our educational apparatuses are to be changed so as to be unapologetically orthodox in teaching.  Along with this honing of our educational systems, we will be teaching the necessary wisdom and charity to apply these teachings so as to provoke conversion.  Alongside of this, I wish to see our parish profile be more public in the community in which we live. I will also be provoking people to make our faith public in how they set their priorities.  This is especially true with how priorities are set for their children!

                The gifts of the Holy Spirit bear fruit.  Abandoning lukewarmness for the fervor of the Gospel bears fruit.  Measurable criteria include Mass attendance, participation in various educational programs and social outreach, and most strongly in being a parish that produces priestly and religious vocations.  I end with this: In Luke 12:49, Jesus says, “I came to set the world afire, how I wish it were already kindled.” To live as Christ seeks demands we leave the lukewarmness of Laodicea behind and embrace the fire of that first Pentecost! Pentecost is considered the birth of the Church, it becomes the template by we are measured.

       

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lukewarm Parishes Part 4


The second recommendation of Jesus to the Church of Laodicea to correct their lukewarm nature was to “buy white garments in which to be clothed, if the shame of your nakedness is to be covered.” (Rev 3:18) Laodicea was well known in the cloth trade.  Its cloths were made of the dark wool of the sheep raised in the region.  It would seem madness from this vantage point to bleach the local wool to a bright white.  The ears of the Laodiceans who first heard this message would well understand what was being asked.

Standing Out, Not Blending In

                To understand what makes lukewarmness so very tempting is to understand that lukewarmness is the temperature of compromise.  Lukewarmness lacks the fiery heat of passion or the icy cold of hatred.  It blends into whatever is around it.  It is a spiritual chameleon. The lukewarm do not like to stick out.  Playing it safe is the goal of the lukewarm.  The huge problem with this is that they drift where the society drifts.  They adopt externally, at least, whatever the surrounding culture adopts. They either adopt or sit in silence.  Either way they refuse to stick out.

                For the Church of Laodicea, being part of the Roman Empire, there was a vested interest in blending into the populace.  So much of what Christianity embraced was in direct opposition to the Greco-Roman culture and Rule of Law.  Concepts we take for granted such as the dignity of the human person, family life, the role of government, the role of religion, human sexuality, and other items were viewed radically different from the morals and ways of governance of the Roman Empire.  In the face of such things, the Laodiceans took the position with their Christian faith to hold internally to Christian beliefs, do only what was safe, and then publicly hold a different stance from their internal beliefs.

                Spiritual lukewarmness leads to the same deal with the devil.  It is the all too common “I am personally opposed but…” deal where a compartmentalization of the person comes into play.  Lukewarmness leads to that wiggle room that allows a cafeteria approach to faith.  There are certainly a boatload of issues that our popular culture takes offense at with the Church to this day.  In fact, let’s be honest, it still is same list as before: the dignity of the human person (especially in abortion), family life, the role the government, the role of religion, human sexuality, and so on.  In our own country, to hold morals contrary to the popular morals leads to derision, ridicule, and other forms of public humiliation.  In other areas of the world it can lead to imprisonment, lawsuits, suspension of human rights, and in some areas, death.    

                Yet in all of this, Christ wants us to stick out.  He wants us to be as different in appearance to the world as we are belief.  This is threatening.  It is worth noting that in the Roman Empire, despite sporadic and intense persecutions over three centuries, the Christians grew from a handful of believers measured in the hundreds to a dominant faith numbering in the millions.  It did this without returning violence for violence or persecution for persecution.  They stood out.  They stood tall. They held their ground.  They won the day.

With Clear Sight

                Finally, Jesus tells them to “buy ointment to smear on your eyes, if you would see once more.”  Again, to the Laodiceans, this would sound familiar.  According to Greek historian Strabo, there was a medical school in Laodicea.  In the region was a key ingredient used in eye lotions.  Jesus compares their lukewarmness to a blurred vision.  Perhaps the lack of fire in their faith comes from a willful resistance to see the truth of the Gospel. The Church of Laodicea does not see themselves as in such a state as Jesus does.  In verse 17 of the same chapter, earlier Jesus says, “You keep saying, “I am so rich and secure and I want for nothing.” Little do you realize how wretched you are, how pitiable and poor, how blind and naked!” 

                Jesus tells his disciples, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)  Clear vision is necessary for conversion.  As individuals and as a parish, we need to ask ourselves in all honesty as to whether we effectively witness to those in our lives and to the community as a whole.  The clearest place to see this in our personal lives is the list of priorities we set in our life and why we choose one thing over another.

                Our Christian ancestors were willing to risk everything to follow Christ.  They left all manner of safety, security, comfort, and convenience behind.  Even today, many in our world are made to make the same choices. Their courage should encourage us. 

                To be blunt: when we make choices between faith and other things, who wins?  Is faith something we fit into the rest of our schedule?  Do we drop Mass when it becomes inconvenient to other things going on?  Do we feel compelled to take on a worldly moral just to keep the peace?  Do we adopt a worldly moral because it is more convenient to our lives?  Do we resent a teaching of Christ because to accept it means to take a unpopular stance? Does a worldly way of looking at life influence our faith (political party for example) or do we seek to use our faith to influence society?  Do we compromise some elements of the faith to move ahead?  Do we teach our children that faith, the practice of faith, or the deepening of faith all take a back seat to getting ahead in this world?  Do we prioritize sports, leisure, work, entertainment, and such over our faith?  The more we answer yes, the more lukewarm we are.  Remember, again, that Jesus finds lukewarmness so revolting that He spews it out of His mouth.  Can we be spewed from the mouth of Christ and still enter heaven?

Lukewarm Parishes Part 3


In the Book of Revelations, when Jesus is speaking to the Church of Laodicea, He is speaking to a single parish in modern terminology. The parish of Laodicea has become lukewarm.  They enjoy tremendous wealth and are spared the persecution many of their sister parishes in the same region are undergoing. The lukewarm nature of Laodicea is so revolting to Jesus that He says He spews it from his mouth.  However, He gives them three ways by which to rectify their revolting situation. 

“But From Me Gold Refined by Fire”

                Jesus’ first antidote to their disease of lukewarmness is to “buy from me gold refined by fire if you would be truly rich.”  Mind you, they are already fiscally rich.  But Jesus sees them as spiritually poor. He encourages them to seek spiritual wealth.  Their wealth, though, comes from “gold refined by fire.”

                When gold is mined, it is not pure.  Grains of dirt and other impurities exist within the nugget.  For gold to be refined, it must be heated up to melting.  In that stressing of the gold, the impurities are burned off and all that remains is the gold.  Unlike the other churches/parishes in the area, Laodicea is spared persecution from outside. The external sources which would help to purify them are not there as they are in other areas. 

Not much has changed over two thousand years. There are Catholic parishes around the world where the Church is being persecuted by outside sources.  One can look to Mexico, where drug cartels are killing priests (two in last few weeks) while they are getting ready for Mass or hearing confessions. One can look at Nigeria, where, again, this last weekend, two priests and numerous parishioners were murdered in an attack.  In this country, we have no such attacks taking place.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t attacks.

Our attacks are much more subtle but every bit as potent.  For Laodicea, their attachment to the wealth and other benefits they enjoyed became the source of their lukewarmness. When I do not have to choose God or something else at the point of a sword, it is much easier to not choose God. The pressure to choose other than God comes from a desire towards the things of this world.  That desire leads to a constant compromise of matter of God and faith.  Priorities follow suit. Faith gets reduced to “putting in my time” at Mass (maybe…unless something else more important comes along).  The more we compromise, the more lukewarm we become.  We know from this passage that Jesus finds such lukewarmness revolting enough to want to vomit from His mouth. What then is this “gold refined by fire?”  Where do we get it?  How do we get it?

Refined by Fire

                In these simple words, Jesus is telling us that we must be purified as gold is.  That is not easy. In fact, the refining process essentially changes the gold nugget.  By the same token, the refining or purifying process means a drastic change.  To those who understand the language of the Church, this should be no surprise.  During the liturgical season of Lent, we focus on the purifying elements.  In embracing fasting, abstinence, prayer and alms-giving, these become the fire by which we become purified.  All of these speak to an idea important to purification and refining: detachment.  The gold cannot hold onto its imperfections and debris and still become pure. These spiritual practices, while highlighted during Lent, are not exclusive to Lent.   In detachment from the things of this world, we learn proper use of these things and where on the scale of priority they should actually be. Detachment leads to a proper re-ordering of our lives toward God and shakes off the grime of lukewarmness.

                Notice though, that Jesus tells us to “buy from me”  this gold.   It is more than our own efforts.  We need the grace of God to do any of this.  God gives us the grace to build the virtues of prudence (knowing how apply wisdom to choices and priorities) and temperance (self-control).  God gives us a forge to purify ourselves of lukewarmness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Part of that sacrament is the desire to amend one’s life and to use the grace of God to not go back to the trough from which one just repented. Reconciliation, like all avenues of grace, is to disrupt this path of lukewarmness.  However, to disrupt that path necessitates choosing a better, more worthy path.

Refining is Difficult

                To leave lukewarmness behind means an essential change of priorities.  If we are to change these priorities, it will make us stick out.  This is why it is difficult and does court a degree of persecution through ridicule or persecution.  It comes in the form of a young man I know who had to choose between weekend Mass and a job that constantly and intentionally prevented him from going to Mass. It comes in the form of a teen I knew that to go to church youth events meant being threatened with his starting spot on a team (the coach was Catholic…let that sink in).  It comes in the form of a young lady having to choose being with her friends for a party or attending a necessary workshop to work with youth in the parish.  It comes in the form of a sports family who makes the effort to go to Mass while on the road, even when they are the only ones of their group that do.  It is all about the hard choices.

                The lukewarm or cold will immediately go to that which compromises the practice of faith.  Sometimes the choice results in good.  The young man quit his job and found a better job.  Sometimes it is difficult.  The teen did lose his starting position. He became a better man for it.  The lukewarm will look for an excuse, the courageous will stand tall.

                Our own willingness to stand tall in the midst of this refinement becomes a lesson for those placed in their care.  Lukewarm parents will usually (not always) raise lukewarm children at best or kids that just abandon faith altogether at worst.  Part of parenting is to expose that life is full of hard choices and what one chooses as priorities says much to the character of the person.  Our choices, when it comes to our Catholic faith, either expose a fire from within for God or expose a lukewarmness that places faith and God as a lesser priorities.  Maybe it is that flavor of playing second fiddle to the world that makes Christ want to spew us from His mouth.

                Christ doesn’t ask of us what He Himself has not given.  In His proclamation of the Gospel He gives us a way of life.  In His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, He makes clear that we were so much a first priority that He is willing to pour out His own life for us.  In the constant access He gives us to the Holy Spirit, especially in the sacraments, He makes clear how much He wants to be a part of our lives.  In the face of such love, we can now see why such lukewarmness would be revolting and offensive to Jesus?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

I'm Not Being Fed!!!!

I have heard this phrase bandied about many times well before I was Catholic (1977).  I have heard it said by every type of Christian.  I have heard Catholics say it. I have heard every type of Protestant say it.  I have heard Orthodox say it.

I understand the frustration that usually lies behind it.  It can mean a variety of things though.  It can mean I am not being told THE truth. I can mean I am not being entertained.  It can mean I am being challenged and I don't like it.  It can mean I am being spiritually malnourished.  It can mean I am getting real food when I want junk food and candy.

This post has a narrow intended audience.  I t is written for Catholics.  One might be able to extrapolate parts for one's own church, but I am aiming at Catholics.

You are being fed...maybe

I want to start with a very basic premise.  If you are a Catholic in a state of grace, you are being fed every time you do go to Mass. The primary feeding does not come in the form of well-executed liturgy, nor truth filled preaching, nor in great music necessarily.  These are the work of man.  The primary feeding comes from what Jesus Christ offers in the giving of His Flesh and Blood in the Eucharist.  In John 6:55, Jesus proclaims, "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." If one is in a state of grace, one does not leave the Catholic Church without being fed what is the real food we need...maybe.

Maybe?  Yes.  Maybe.  Every sacrament has what is called form and matter.  The form are the words used and the matter are the things used. To change the form or matter invalidates the sacrament. For example, the priest changes the words of the Institution Narrative of the Eucharistic Prayer changes the form of the Mass and can invalidate the sacrament.  In other words, you do not receive the Body of Christ; you receive bread.  The true feeding you need is not done. If something other than unleavened wheat bread (in the Roman Rite) is used, it invalidates the sacrament.  The addition of honey, other grains, and leaven are prohibited in the Latin Rite. Such abuses should be reported immediately to the Diocesan Bishop as Catholics who are free to receive the Eucharist to have a right to the Eucharist.  Clerics do not possess the authority to change either the form or matter of any sacrament.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes this clear in section 24, " However, the Priest will remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass."

If the form and matter is properly done, even if the priest is not a holy man, then one is fed at Mass.  One is fed even of the homily is horrible.  One is fed even if the music is wretched.  One is fed even if the priest goes 100 MPH.  In the end, the Sacraments is the work of Christ and His Church.  The real food needed comes from Christ.  Believe me, though, I am not letting those, clergy and laity, off the hook for poor execution of their roles within the Mass.  The Mass is the worship of God.  When Mass becomes the worship of man, we are going to have the problems expressed by 'I am not being fed."

Right Recipe...Right Ingredients

I like to cook.  I know you can have all the right ingredients and still have an inedible meal.  You have to follow the recipe.  The type of ingredients matter.  Say a recipe calls for strawberries and you use rotten strawberries, you have used what the recipe called for, but have managed to ruin the dish all the same. The same goes for how we worship.  I can have correct form and matter; that guarantees the Eucharist to be sure.  But our worship of God should be a like quality.  How we worship should be as best a reflection of the reality of the Real Presence.

After correct form and matter, we should have correct orientation.  The Mass is all about the worship of God.  We come first and foremost to give thanks to God.  The presence of God at Mass is not incidental: it is primary.  I wonder how many times I hear, "I am not being fed" is actually a belief that I am not coming into the presence of God.  It can be a bemoaning of a loss of transcendence.   Though, the transcendent God IS present in many ways at Mass (The Word, the Eucharistic Species, The People of God), it can be obscured by a misfocus or lack of focus. The presence can be obscured by too much a focus on the people.  The focus can be obscured by a lackadaisical mannerism or a 'going-through-the-motions' mentality where I am merely putting in my time...and as little time as I can get away with giving.

While the apex of the Mass is and always will be the Eucharist, the other ingredients are to be of a quality that befits the Eucharist.  The Church should connote an entrance into the presence of God.  It should be more than just a gathering space akin to an auditorium where we are only silent once the play has begun.

In entering into a Catholic Church, because of our belief in what the Blessed Sacrament is, there should be an acknowledgement and etiquette about how we respond and act.  When the building focuses too much on the people, it loses that sense of transcendence and becomes mundane and commonplace.  The sanctuary of the Church should be seen as the center of the throne room and not the stage for the play.

How the priest does the Mass and preaches matters.  If it did not, seminary training would be much lesser.  Because he must avoid being the center of attention (which is difficult) and seeing himself as a showman trying to sell the performance, he must remember he sets the tone for worship.  If he goes through the motions or rushes through it, he tells the people what he thinks is or is not going on.  The Church is specific in its rubrics (ways of doing things) and prayers in telling the priest what is expected and what the people who have come to the Eucharist have a right to.  

The homily does matter.  For better or worse, it is the principle point where the lay faithful are given an explication of the truths of the faith and reason to worship. The homily cannot be divorced from  Catholic teaching.  For better or worse, the homily exposes the spirituality and faith of the priest.  It can do grave damage if it becomes a place where he departs from the teachings of the Church. If it shows depth and faith, it encourages the faithful to seek the same.  No cleric who has been given charge of this task can believe it a throw-away task; it was through His proclamation of the Gospel that Christ first made known the will of the Father.  We clerics must take the same seriousness and depth in preaching and teaching that Our Lord did.   We are obligated to the truth.  We can poison the meal with deceit.

In as far as music goes, it does matter for two reasons.  First, music should facilitate our worship of God.  Too often, the lyrics point not to God but to just how special we think we are.  Sometimes the music can be so like the secular music that there is no difference between that and what is heard on the radio.  Recall, what is on the radio is meant to entertain.  Second, the purpose of sacred music isn't to entertain..it is to offer worship to God.  I am not at Mass to have things speak to me primarily...no, I am there at Mass to speak to God.  If the focus is off, then one will leave empty.  It is like the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  The Pharisee came to tell God how great he was, the publican came to rely on how great God is. Only one walked out justified. (Luke 18:9-14)

All this said, it is still possible for a person to feel like they are not fed even though all the other ingredients are there.  What about them?  Let's just say you can't walk into a 4 star restaurant and want a Big Mac.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Throughout all of history, there has always been those who want to be entertained.  The focus is on them.  Mass must speak to their desires and proclivities.  It becomes style over substance. My disposition in coming in can be like bringing a vial of poison into the meal with me; taking that poison as a aperitif before the meal.  It is especially loathsome when a priest does this.  Remember, we priests are to be the servants of the Liturgy, not its master.

When the focus is primarily what I get out of Mass, then prepare to starve. The focus is not where it needs to be. The focus is to be on God.  The focus is God as He is, not as I want Him to be.  It is not the job of the Church to change itself to worship the God I want; it is the job of the Church to call us into worship of the God who is.  Were the congregation and the clergy to focus on this reality, were all aspects of the Mass to point to this reality, then I believe people would leave knowing they have been 'fed'.  For the Mass is always about the glorification of God and the sanctification of His people.  We get what we get as God's part in this exchange.  It is an exchange.  If we leave our part out, then we will leave Mass incomplete.  That, my friends, accounts much of the time for 'not being fed.'

The focus matters.  The focus matters for the priest.  The focus matters for the musicians and cantors.  The focus matters for the lectors, servers, and other persons assisting in Mass. The focus matters for every single of the lay faithful.   We should be assisting each other in maintaining that focus so the worship and glorification of God DOES take place and the glorification of HIs people DOES take place.  There will be times where the focus is bit harder, especially when toddlers are out of sorts (I am a big believer that they stay as the only way to train appropriate behavior is to follow through...and every parent has been there).  There will be times when the music is off or the preaching is off.  Nobody bats 1.000.  Nonetheless each of us is to use the grace of God to maintain that focus.

Some find this easier to do in the Ordinary Form and some in the Extraordinary Form.  I am not going to get in the weeds on this one, but only to say that both are recognized by the Church as legitimate.  Since it was the Apostles, specifically Peter and his successors, that were given the Keys to the Kingdom, I should very careful in attempting to commandeer that authority to suit my own proclivities. Both have rubrics and prayers that are not to be adjusted by the priest.  Both rituals should be adhered to with all due diligence. Focus matters.  Obedience matters.

The only time I would recommend fleeing a Church is if the priest is changing form and matter in such a way as to invalidate the Mass and prohibit the faithful in a state of grace from reception of the Blessed Sacrament. If that is happening, then indeed, the person is not being fed.  For the true food and drink Christ offers isn't splendid music, superb preaching, or such..it is and always will be His Body and Blood.

 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

An Open Letter to Young Catholic Men

In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", a band or fellowship is formed among men of various races to accomplish a single goal; to fight back and defeat a seemingly all powerful enemy bent on the destruction of all not of his making. Key to this is the destruction of a ring of tremendous power. We know the story.  The fellowship suffers defeats and success.  The fellowship has to fight valiantly. Through tremendous selfless struggle and a courage to stand up in overwhelming odds, they win the day.

Tolkien's writings still resonate with so many because they tap into the human condition in a powerful way.  In this case, they point to the fact that we must face incredible evil from time to time.  How we face evil exposes the kind of man we are. How willing we are to stand up, shatter any connections to comfort, and willingly engage with a culture who seeks nothing more than our complicity and silence goes to the core of the definition of masculinity in our world.

We have a tendency to deal in extremes in our culture.  Extremes are easy to identify.  To one extreme when it comes to masculinity is the warped image of the man as an authoritarian despot who treats all around him as a means to an end.  To the other extreme is the image of a perpetual boy numbed with comfort and spineless in opinion. When I speak of masculinity, I wish to avoid these extremes.  Too many times, we drift to these extremes to define who we should be.  I am purposing a third way.  For Christ calls us to neither be dictators nor door mats.

My proposal is for us to find our masculinity in something that is modeled after Jesus Himself.  I caution, though, in as much as the definitions of masculinity are manipulated by cultures, so is the image of who Jesus is.  In this we must avoid the extremes of a Vengeful God who cannot wait to drop us into hell or the peace, love, and crunchy granola hippie who is a tragic victim of 'the man'.

Jesus and Masculinity 

Key to understanding Jesus, is to understand that He is completely motivated by love, specifically self-giving love.  The life He embraces is one of detachment from all worldly goods.  He shows compassion where love dictates it should.  He shows fervor and courage where love dictates it should.  He is not defined by any societal conventions.  He eats with sinners.  He talks to people he shouldn't.  He doesn't back from confrontation. He is the Son of God/Son of Man that the Father wants Him to be. Even when He had to face the torture and brutality of the Passion and crucifixion, He doesn't back down.

When He sends His apostles and disciples out, He tells them He is sending them out as lambs among wolves.  He expects them to follow His lead.  When He calls them despite their frailties, He knows who  they can be with His help.  He expects them to follow Him in a life of detachment.  He expects them to follow the same compassion and courage.  He expects them to face their crosses with the same love and courageous resolve that He did.  On top of this, He expects them to preach what is considered madness in the Roman world.

In the Roman world, the paterfamilias (father of the family) had absolute control over his wife and children.  They could be killed, sold into slavery, or any other action that he saw fit.  The apostles were not to model the way they fathered this fledgling church on such behavior.  In fact, they were to challenge the very idea of the paterfamilias as it stood.  They didn't do this by going to the opposite extreme and teach men to be door mats; the heart of being a leader was to be a servant.  This is how Jesus leads, this is how his apostles were to follow suit.

The Pressure

Most young men find themselves in a world that still preaches the extremes.  On the one hand we have the part of the culture that tells us that you prove your manhood by what you can conquer. This is the basis of the hook-up culture.  This is the success-at-all-cost culture.  This is the culture that tells you to manipulate everything around you.  It requires a great deal of arrogance and suppressing of being a servant. On the other side, you are told to sit down and shut up. You are taught to be ashamed of anything distinctly masculine as being part of the rape culture/patriarchy. This side assumes the only other option is the other extreme.  The goal is to create an easily subjugated group.

Both sides, though, have a common enemy. Catholicism. Both sides speak in terminology of power: either being the one wielding power or being the one who power wielded over. Catholicism, as is written, goes in an opposite direction.  It places a premium on selfless love.  If one selflessly loves, then one will not treat others as a means to and end; whether that end be sexual conquests, fiscal conquest, or whatever other conquest is sought. If one selflessly loves, then hedonism (the Playboy mentality) and materialism cannot be sought. Catholicism also places a premium on being a witness to something greater.  Hence, a life of mousy silence and religion-as-a-personal-hobby is not the goal either.  Catholicism requires making stands for the truth even when that truth is unpopular.  Catholicism requires entering into the warfare of culture to uphold the truth.  While the truth will set you free, it will not win the approval of the culture.

Isolation and Fellowship

The greatest way to manipulate someone is to increasingly isolate them. If I were the devil, I would use isolation as a primary tool. How would I strangle the spiritual life of a young man? I would introduce him to porn as early as possible. I would simultaneously teach him to treat sexuality as a means of self-gratification and then make him feel deeply guilty about seeing women as such.  That way I could isolate him out from forming healthy relationship with women and use it as a source of shame to preclude service to God.  I would have wallow in a swamp of shame at his weakness and resentment that the Church teaches he should not be doing this.

If I were the devil, I would have the young man cut himself off of sacramental grace; I would want nothing of the life of Christ in him.  I would isolate him from his community of faith.  I would cut him off from men who might model Catholic masculinity.  I would make him feel uncomfortable in deepening any sense of faith. I would provide of plethora of distractions all of which he could treat as greater and more pressing priorities. In doing this, I could isolate him from godly men and surround him with men from the extremes. I would leave him trying to fill a hole in his heart with all of these things.

In Tolkien's story,  the task of standing against evil is not left to one man.  A fellowship is formed.  Even the task of destroying the ring isn't left to a single man; that man takes his friend with him to push him and encourage him when he felt weak or was tempted by the power of the ring. Jesus sent his disciples in groups of two.  He expected the Apostles to be one, to create a group who would be one throughout the world.  They were to support one another and bring out the best in one another.  They were to be bound in the same selfless service that He Himself lived.

Over the years, fraternal orders have been formed for Catholic men to bring our the best in other Catholic men so as to call to courageous and selfless service.  I speak of groups like the Knights of Columbus and more recently, the Frassati groups. The goal is to make men understand that if you are isolated, you are an easy target for destruction.  As we want you to be strong, we form the bonds of fellowship.

That first and most essential bond is that of the divine life placed in us by the Sacramental life of the Church.  You cannot do this without the life of Christ running through your veins.  It is also the place you learn about selflessness.  This means getting away from the idea of Mass as something you get something from to a place where you offer selfless service and worship to God. It means being able to see sacramental grace as the fuel to building resolve to the man God made you to be.

Last Sunday, during a panel for confirmation, a question was asked how to maintain faith and grow as a person left home and was no longer compelled to go.  One bit of advice I gave was to surround yourself with  people who would call you to being a person of faith. In the same panel, I also challenged the students to look at what influences they allowed in their life through media and entertainment.  Inevitably, young men, you make the decisions of what you allow into your life.  IF you drink poison, be prepared for the consequences.

Add men to your life who will encourage you to rise to the level of selfless service.  Push beyond the tepid nature of comfort. The world is not going to like your doing this.  Then again, what enemy likes it when a combatant enters the field of battle against it?

Know the Tools

In Tolkien's story, the fellowship was not sent out to their task unarmed.  The weapons of war necessary to the task at hand were taken with them to accomplish the task.  St. Paul likens the life of a Christian to that one of a soldier going off to battle.  The main armor and weapons of the Catholic man are the virtues.  A Catholic man embraces them and learns how to effectively use them with all the skill of a soldier and his weapon.  Dropping these weapons and armor only leaves you vulnerable to an enemy who gives no quarter.

A Catholic man has at his disposal a use of the cardinal virtues.  He can use prudence to judge how and when to act. He can use justice to put his own needs aside in order to give to another what is needed.  He can use temperance to show the self-control and discipline to act rightly and selflessly.  He can use fortitude to show the courage necessary to take the stands he needs to take, to engage wisely in the battles he must fight, and to band with his brothers so that man is left behind.

A Catholic man knows that he isn't meant to do this on his own.  He has the God given and God strengthened theological virtues to know God's will (faith), to trust God's will (hope), and to execute God's will in such a way as to model himself after Christ (love). This boldness gives you the ability to cry out "DEUS VULT" when our culture would scare you off the field.

Find that fellowship in your own life.  I know it might require a great courage and might also mean intense shifts.  I know some of you might already feel isolated.  Maybe you have already allowed poisons like porn, promiscuity, and such into your life.  Maybe you have isolated yourself from the sacraments or have treated faith as a pious hobby at best.  The point is, though, that God can take you from such a timid and selfish existence and rise you above it.  You just have to be willing to be uncomfortable, to stand out, and to be the man who doesn't live in the extremes of this culture.

We need men who will rise up and take on the courage of the Tolkien's fellowship.  We need men who will mimic Christ and His apostles and embrace detachment and pour themselves out for the good of those God will place in their care.  If you are called to marriage and family life, your family will need you to be this man.  If you are called priesthood, your parish will need you to be this man.  We know the damage done by those who took on these roles and weren't these men.  Now...go out and learn to be this man.  Know that God will give you what you need if your willing to do it.



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lukewarm Parishes Part 2


In the history of the Church, outside persecutions have never been able to destroy the Church.  They have caused grave damage, but cannot destroy. The Church has suffered greatly at her own hand, though, throughout the ages.  One of the greatest autoimmune viruses to inflict the Church is the one that was inflicting the Church of Laodicea: that of lukewarmness. An autoimmune disease is any disease in the body is essentially attacking itself.  Some autoimmune diseases, such as MS or rheumatoid arthritis can literally cripple the body to immobility.  So lukewarmness does the same.  It cripples a parish or diocese into immobility and a disagreeable acceptance of a status quo.



Lukewarmness and the Status Quo

                I believe that the phrase, “We have always done it this way” is a sign of a dying institution.   This doesn’t mean we throw out or adapt teachings on faith and morals within the Church.  This doesn’t mean we treat Mass as a blank pallet on which to do what we want.  Truth be told, I believe we need to stick stronger to these things.  Compromise, in these areas, is a direct result of lukewarmness.

                The status quo I speak of is the willful pursuing of ways of education, formation, and evangelization (or the lack thereof) that are pursued (usually half-heartedly) even though they produce little to no positive results. More often than not, the status quo takes a one-size-fits-all mentality.  The status quo also desires a modus operandi whereas you come to us and our programs as opposed to we go to you.  Lukewarmness and the status quo seek to stay safe.  Lukewarmness and the status quo resist taking chances or stepping out of comfort zones.  Why?  Lukewarmness and the status quo are ruled by fear of change.   

                I remember being part of committee whose objective was to look at a policy that everyone around the table knew was not working.  For THREE years we spoke about it.  We brought in experts.  However, any divergence from the current policy was met with a mix of wringing of hands and steadfast stubbornness of changing the current policy…even though we had already acknowledged the current policy didn’t work.  After the three years, the policy stood unchanged without the slightest adjustment and still did not work.

The Qualities of a Lukewarm Parish

                Why was Jesus so revolted by the Church of Laodicea?  Why did he find it so bad that He wanted to projectile vomit it from His mouth?  He accuses them of being lukewarm.  What made them lukewarm?  They were comfortable with how things were.  Is being comfortable a bad thing?  After all, many in advertisement act as if it is the ultimate goal. In a way, being comfortable can be detrimental to a parish.  To maintain comfort in a parish, change cannot happen. A lukewarm parish does have certain qualities.

                First, a lukewarm parish is all about the status quo.  It will be all about the status quo even when it is generally acknowledged that the status quo is harming the parish.  Leadership will be a good-old-boy network of champions for the status quo.  They will shut out new voices while complaining that new voices do not come forward. They will keep using the same tired things over and over again.  They will be champions of deferred maintenance in every aspect of parish life.  They will complain about the catechesis but not change materials.  They will complain about the lack of youth while either insisting on continued pandering or doing nothing and blaming the youth for not liking what they like.  In all this, the actual teachings of the Church will be circumvented when they become inconvenient.

                Second, a lukewarm parish is slow to evangelize.  They will want new members, but insist that new potential members come to them and adapt 100% to the local status quo.  Church teaching that does not back the status quo will be forgotten or deliberately left out so that things remain as is.  A lukewarm parish will not retain many who join them.  They will also lose the overwhelming amount of their youth. The reason for this is that a lukewarm nature is a dying nature. It is not a human trait to invest in what is dying.  Investment of one’s time, energy, and resources usually will go to what has a future.  The more vibrant the future, the more vibrant the investment of time, energy, and resources will be as well.

                Third, a lukewarm parish will shoot for the minimum.  As with any lukewarm entity, just enough will be done to keep things breathing.  A minimalism in worship, in catechesis, in formation, and all other aspects will be hallmark.  The most dominant thing will be fundraising.  A plethora of fundraising (capital projects aside) will show that the parish isn’t showing enough life for many to invest.  Staff will be minimal.  Programs will be tired. In such a parish, the budget will determine the mission. When that happens, lukewarmness has become toxic.

                Finally, a lukewarm parish will be a place of hand wringing and excuses. People will know something is wrong.  They will feel helpless to change these things. Helplessness will breed excuse making.

                None of these sounds like what Jesus wants for His Church.  If we consider what He went through in bringing us into existence through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, we should want for us what He wants for us.     

                In the passage from Revelations, His answer to Laodicea’s lukewarmness is “But from me gold refined in fire…buy white garments in which to be clothed…buy ointment to smear on your eyes.”  Revelations 3:18.  In the next three weeks, we will look at these three things and how to use them to leave Laodicea once and for all!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lukewarm Parishes Part 1


Many times, I have sworn to myself, that if I ever did publish a book, I would title it “Leaving Laodicea: Embracing Holiness as a Parish.” Laodicea is one of the seven churches in the Book of Revelations to whom St John is instructed to deliver a message.


“‘The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”   Revelation 3:14-17

The city of Laodicea was known for its spring that ran hot or cold. It was a very wealthy city. When Christianity was first preached there, it seems it took some root. However, Jesus faults this new church with a lukewarmness that is intolerable. The actual Greek verb, which is translated ‘spit out’ gives more the impression of projectile vomiting.  In other words, like the taste of something utterly revolting, Jesus finds the lukewarm nature of Laodicea to be thoroughly revolting.

What causes lukewarmness?

When we look at what little we know about Laodicea, we can get something of an answer.  If something is lukewarm, it is tepid.  Laodicea was a wealthy town.  There is no evidence given that the Church of Laodicea knew anything of persecution as did a number of the other seven churches.  They were comfortable.

We live in a society that values comfort.  We will spend great amounts of money to accrue comfort.  We will even simulate comfort by numbing ourselves through chemical addictions.  We will simulate comfort through the misuse of our sexuality and the use of pornography.  We will seek that which gives us that sense of well-being.  To value comfort necessitates a disproportionate focus on the self. The search for comfort will lead to a rejection of what disrupts that comfort.  In this rejection, we will compromise away whatever upsets our comfort.

In the same way, we will resent whatever disrupts our comfort.  We will blame outside forces for this unwanted intrusion into our comfort (especially God). 

For one who values comfort, the role of religion is to merely comfort. The comfortable religious person doesn’t seek to grow, but to remain is a state of inert stasis where they drift along as a leaf down a stream. The role of God in such a religion is to rubber stamp whatever theology I cobble together that makes me comfortable. If I do grow, it is completely on my terms and with a predetermined outcome.  Again, God’s roles are to rubber stamp my efforts and pat me on the head for any effort.

Lukewarmness is a direct result of compromise. Lukewarmness cannot find the intellectual and spiritual honesty to own up to what is actually being done.  Since it neither has the coldness of abandonment of faith nor the heat of a truly lived faith, Christ finds it loathsome enough to want to reject altogether.  Why not?! Certainly Jesus did not go through the passion, death, and resurrection so that we may be ho-hum about faith and the living out of discipleship.

Lukewarmness breeds indifference which breeds animosity

Children pick up what we as adults are truly excited about or find important. They will see this on how we live, on what is chosen as a priority, our words/attitudes about things, and our willingness to donate time, energy and resources to a cause.

By the same token, children also pick up what isn’t worth their time or energy.  What the adults in their life are lukewarm about will pass on and deepen into indifference.  What the child witnesses to be burdensome, of lesser priority, or unimportant will be passed on down.  This indifference leads them open to going one step further into an animosity toward whatever is at hand.

We see this in study after study about faith.  For example, studies on Church attendance show a progressive slide from one generation to the next.  There are multiple factors that contribute to this, but one of the most dominant is the attitude towards God and faith.  When a parent is indifferent or seemingly goes through motion, it says something powerful to their children.  Statistically, this is especially true of the attitude of the dad.

Lukewarmness of one generation provokes the next generation to drift even further away.  There is something innate in our nature that abhors going through the motions. This is especially true with younger people. It seems to be inauthentic. Why bother with such drudgery?

Hence, lukewarmness is the devil’s playground. It is why Jesus shows such a viral antipathy to it.  Lukewarmness provides fertile ground for doubt, disbelief, and inevitable rejection of faith.

However, Jesus would not warn Laodicea about their lukewarmness if it were irreversible. It is reversible. In the next few weeks, I am going to reflect on how we leave lukewarmness behind.  I am a big believer in the fact we cannot complain about behavior we enable.  As a pastor, I want to see every aspect of who we are as a parish - outreach, education, devotion, worship, formation of our youth, and social support to roar like a lion. 

No parish should be comfortable living in Laodicea.  No family should be comfortable living in Laodicea. No individual should be comfortable living in Laodicea.   On all levels, it is far past due time to shake off the dust of Laodicea and forge boldly ahead.